A CONSORTIUM involving Co Tyrone construction firm McAleer and Rushe has taken forward its long-standing bid for a £60m golf course and hotel resort near Hillsborough.
Wilmar Leisure Ltd is controlled by the Cookstown building firm and Co Down developer David Wilson, who owns the 200-acre site beside the A1.
The company has been working toward a major tourism and housing development close to the Co Down village since around 2003.
To date Wilmar Leisure has secured planning permission by breaking the overall scheme into separate applications.A 152-bed five-star hotel; an 18-hole championship golf course; a nine hole ‘academy’ course; along with a series of holiday homes and residential units, have all secured planning permission.
Now the consortium has notified Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council of its intention to submit an overall masterplan application encompassing the entire resort.
Last month the company lodged a proposal of application notice with the council, with the full application likely within 12 weeks.
But the project has not been without controversy.
Wilmar Leisure has argued that the golf courses and hotel will not be financially viable in the medium to long-term without an ‘enabling development’, namely residential housing to help finance the project. It has stated the project will not be developed in its current form without ‘revenue generating assets’.
The company's argument is that prospective purchasers of the holiday units will not be able to live a permanent ‘golf resort’ lifestyle.
But some objectors to the project believe that removing the holiday conditions placed on the accommodation properties will open a backdoor to the principle of developing more housing in the rural locale.
A bid to remove a condition that 54 apartments cannot be used for permanent residences ended up in the High Court in 2017.
The 2016 bid to remove the condition was voted through by Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s planning committee against the recommendation of the local authority’s own officials.
It later transpired that two members of the planning committee, who voted for the application, had previously submitted letters of support for the resort project, but failed to declare an interest, breaching council protocol.
It prompted the council’s former chief executive Theresa Donaldson to seek a judicial review in a bid to quash the local authority’s own decision.
That bid was thrown out, but the High Court upheld an earlier challenge to the decision by Rural Integrity, a company owned by planning campaigner Gordon Duff.
Reports produced by Wilmar Leisure in support of its plans claim the full golf resort, hotel and accommodation development could create around 1,200 construction jobs over five years, with the potential for up to 240 permanent jobs.
It also claims that if the course is produced to championship standard, it will be capable of attracting a European Tour event, attracting up to £10m a year in tourist spending.
Wilmar Leisure’s plans have enjoyed significant support from political and civic circles to date. The DUP’s Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson and current Agriculture Minister, Edwin Poots, are among the senior politicians to go on the record with their backing.
The resort also has the support of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society. In a letter to planning officials, the farming organisation said the project “would have many synergies with the society’s agricultural shows at Balmoral Park”.
Credit: Irish News